Brooks Distance Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Extremely comfortable, versatile, affordable, soft material, odor resistant
Cons: Heavy when wet
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Brooks Distance has proven itself to be as comfortable as it is affordable. Our favorite attribute, the soft cotton-esque feeling fabric, remains from the last version and rounds out the high level of comfort. While it doesn't breathe quite as well as some of the other airy shirts we tested, it does have its place when a touch of extra warmth is wanted during shoulder seasons.
While comfort can be subjective and a bit elusive to rate, some attributes are universal. We analyze the fit relative to other shirts, fabric feel, how the seams are sewn, and where they are located to make our judgment. The size medium fit our 5'10" 155-pound main gear tester perfectly, riding the fine line between having too much fabric and flapping like a sail, or having too little fabric and riding up over our love handles like Will Ferrell's sweater when he's playing the cowbell.
What sets the Distance apart from the rest of the field is the cotton-y feel of the fabric. The material is significantly tighter and less breathable but offers a bit more warmth as a trade-off. When we first put this shirt on, we would have sworn there was at least some cotton in the blend due to how soft it feels. The fabric is an awesome blend of 88% polyester and 12% lyocell, a common substitute for cotton and silk that is sourced from wood cellulose.
This shirt is so comfortable that we found ourselves wearing it around the house just because it was the most comfortable shirt in our closet. Yes, when wearing a running pack, there was still a bit of abrasion with the seams; thus, it was not gifted the absolute highest score for comfort. While there are some drawbacks to this ultra-soft material such as water retention and a slower drying speed, the high level of comfort is notable.
The gusseted shoulder panels offset the seams, so they aren't sitting right across the shoulder bones. This is a massive boost for comfort as well, especially when wearing a running pack or backpack. We also found it increased mobility, excellent for scrambling and rock climbing.
Most of the shirts we tested had visible perforations in the fabric or at least some mesh panels in key spots to allow for greater breathability and venting. The Distance, however, forewent mesh panels and opted for a tightly woven polyester-spandex fabric blend with some mixed results.
This tightly woven fabric is moderately breathable but nowhere close to shirts that prioritize ventilation. While the Distance isn't the most breathable in the bunch, the decrease in breathability is a trade-off for a slight boost in warmth, especially for uses other than running. Ultimately, the lack of airflow ties back to comfort during higher output activities; it can't compete. All of this aside, this fabric is excellent for hiking and climbing and made for enjoyable spring bike commutes.
Weighing in at 5.2 ounces, this shirt is at the heavier end of the spectrum. For shirts with uniform fabric and no incorporated mesh panels, we look for effective wicking capabilities. During our standardized drying test, (washing the shirts, and then weighing them prior to an initial spin cycle and subsequent five-minute drying cycle), the Distance landed right in the middle of the group. With more fabric, it should have been capable of holding more water trapped between its fibers, thereby slowing down the drying speed, but this proved not to be the case.
When wet, the shirt held 51% of its dry weight in water. After the initial spin cycle, only 26% of its weight in water remained, but its important to note that as the heaviest shirt in the bunch, this percentage equates to nearly 40 grams. After 15 minutes, the shirt was effectively dry, placing it not as the fastest drying shirt, nor the slowest.
Features & Versatility
The comfort, slightly more relaxed fit, and soft fabric make the Distance an excellent choice for a number of activities. What stood out to us in our testing was the versatility that the look and comfort introduced. After a morning run, the shirt still looked and smelled fresh enough to continue wearing. Unlike more technically fitting shirts, the casual fit and appearance had us wearing it for the rest of the day running errands around town.
We used this shirt on our regular bike commute and even during an ascent of the Petit Grepon in Rocky Mountain National Park. Even just hanging out in this shirt is a pleasure. The omission of vulnerable mesh fabrics adds a level of durability that we didn't expect. In this regard, the weight of the shirt actually lent to its overall versatility.
The casual design and soft fabric make picnics and biking to the shops fun as you won't look too sporty. Many of the shirts tested didn't make for good casual wear as they have an obvious activewear look. Additionally, the implemented odor-control agent seems to work effectively as we got far fewer stinky looks while wearing this shirt than others in our lineup. Both shoulders feature reflective markings, which we love for cycling. And while we like that the shirt doesn't appear overly "techy," the updated banding on the sleeves is appreciated and adds to overall versatility.
By eliminating the tag on the neck and the care-instructions tag on the interior seam, comfort really is a priority for this soft shirt. Another noticeable standout feature is the small sweatband on the back of the neck. When it arrived, it was one of two shirts that wasn't wrapped in plastic. Brooks has taken other steps with this shirt to ensure that it has less of an environmental impact, even going as far as attaining a Bluesign certification. Well done, Brooks.
Unmatched comfort, reflective banding updates, and an affordable price make the Distance an excellent value. The bottom line is that we would have no hesitation in recommending this shirt to a friend at the retail price. If you're looking for a quick-drying and comfortable running layer that can be used for any outdoor pursuits, give this comfortable shirt a long hard look.
The Brooks Distance is an affordable, quick-drying, and fairly versatile running shirt. The recent boost in comfort has helped it become one of our tester's personal favorites for running and climbing. The soft stitching combined with the ultra-comfortable fabric makes this a great shirt by any standards. It is a fantastic addition to your running wardrobe arsenal and was the clear frontrunner for our Top Pick for Comfort Award.
— Jeff Colt and Brian Martin